Michael and I leave for the hospital at five in the morning. I’m 39 weeks and scheduled for a c-section because my son is breech with a cord wrapped around his neck. My mom, who drove us to the hospital, takes a picture of me in my large pink shirt and black maternity leggings, my hair pulled back into an elastic.
The receptionist at the desk picks up the phone and says, “Alizabeth? They’re ready for you.”
A nurse’s assistant takes me and Michael to our room. There is a round bath with jets that I will not use, a sink, a bed, a cot, and a monitor. Everything seems white, blue or green.
I ask Michael to grab the birth plan from the hospital bag. The fold is uneven and my punctuation is sketchy. Not as glamorous as I envisioned, and I’m embarrassed about it’s lack of professionalism. I give it to the nurse when she comes in with a surgical robe for me to put on, and she reads it. “Skin to skin?” she asks, looking over the paper. “You will be having surgery. Your abdominal cavity will be completely exposed.”
“Will my chest be covered?” I ask, even though I probably sound ignorant or aggressive.
“Yes,” she says. “Your entire body will be covered, and a screen will be in front of your face.”
“Okay, but my OB said I could do skin-to-skin.” Silence. I ask, “How long will it take for them to finish the surgery after he’s born?”
“Not long,” she says. “It shouldn’t be more than an hour and a half.”
For the hours I spent looking up C-sections, I missed the detail that I would be in the operating room for an hour and a half after Jeffrey’s birth, my body out of commission.
I’m disappointed. I need my body for that hour after birth, the so-called “golden hour” of skin-to-skin and the first time breastfeeding. And not just for my baby. I need it for me, too.
The nurse starts an IV on the back of my hand but it blows out, a dark balloon of puffy skin, and she restarts it on the other side.
My OB comes in wearing green scrubs. At our last visit he said, “We’ll have a birthday party.” He looks at the birth plan and says it looks great. The nurse asks about skin to skin, and he says “We usually do cheek to cheek.” Not what I had in mind, but it’s something.
The anesthesiologist comes in. He’s friendly, calm. He tells me what I will feel at each step as he is working: it will feel like cold water here, like I’m pressing your back here. I assume he’s washing my skin with Iodine and putting on a patch or something, but he soon says that the spinal is done. He tells me that I will be completely without feeling in my lower body.
I start to feel nauseated. Crippling nausea, like those first weeks of pregnancy before finding Zofran and Diclegis, which helped take off the edge a little. I tell him, almost choking. He calmly says that he can fix that, and I close my eyes and wait. This is what I have done for so much of pregnancy: closed eyes, waiting, trying to stay still while my body tells me to puke. More voices. Another doctor comes in.
They put a giant paper pillow inflated with warm air over me in the cold room. Bright, glinting lights. After a few minutes, it occurs to me that I don’t feel nauseated anymore. I tell the doctor “I feel better” and he says “I thought so.” Everything seems a little hazy and disjointed, perhaps for no other reason than that I know I am about to have my abdomen cut open, about to give birth. A body is about to come out of my body.
The production starts, faster than I expect. I tell Michael, who sits by my head, that he isn’t allowed to look at the surgery. I check out again, like I have been doing all morning, willing myself into a mental blackout. On the operating table, I don’t even try to eavesdrop on the doctors performing my surgery right in front of me, though they are talking the whole time in a light, casual tone.
I catch one of the doctors saying, “Definitely a boy,” followed soon after by a baby’s cry, the harbinger of all good things in a delivery. Someone explains to me that the room must be very cold for the operation and that my baby will be especially cold, so they are going to take him out and put him in a warmer, and I am fine with that, I just want them to keep my baby warm.
I no longer need to check out. I hear the doctors clearly, surprised that they are mostly talking to me. I am able to pay attention, granted the lucidity of joy. My son is carried in, swaddled in receiving blankets and wearing a hat, his eyes open. I kiss him as many times as I can, his cheek held by mine for a minute or so. They take him back to the other room, and Michael follows.
A pediatrician tells me that my son will need CPAP to recruit liquid from his lungs. They will take him to a transitionary NICU. But they aren’t quite ready: he is being weighed or bathed or something. I’m quiet and jittery with surprise, the terrific reality of it all, the actuality of the baby I could never quite believe in when I was pregnant. But somehow, here he is. Even in the other room, I hear him. I hear Michael, suddenly and fervently a father, calling him by name.